Maryland Jockey Club
Few horses enjoyed the kind of on-track success as Mid-Atlantic legend Ben’s Cat, a 26-time stakes winner and earner of more than $2.6 million in purses that raced into his 11-year-old season before being retired this summer and ultimately succumbing to complications from colic surgery less than a month later.
Bred, owned and trained by Hall of Fame horseman King Leatherbury, Ben’s Cat’s long list of accomplishments include sharing Maryland Million records for most career wins (three) and most starts (seven). Had things gone according to plan, the Parker’s Storm Cat gelding would have likely been back for an eighth try this weekend.
Instead, Leatherbury will be represented on Saturday’s 32nd Jim McKay Maryland Million Day program at Laurel Park by another durable 11-year-old gelding. Classic Wildcat, a son of Forest Wildcat whose dam sire is 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed, is the first also-eligible in the $50,000 Starter Handicap for 3-year-olds and up at seven furlongs but his trainer expects him to draw into the race.
It will be the 91st career start for Classic Wildcat, and a victory would make him the oldest Maryland Million winner ever. La Reine’s Terms was 10 when he won the 2005 Maryland Million Turf.
With 10 wins, Leatherbury is one shy of trainer Dale Capuano for the most in Maryland Million competition. His three wins as The Jim Stable are among several owners trailing the five of the late Sondra Bender, who bred Classic Wildcat with her late husband, Howard.
Classic Wildcat is the 9-2 second choice on the morning line in the Starter Handicap behind 4-year-old Jump Start gelding Helloitsme, who has never raced at Laurel. Classic Wildcat has earned 18 of his 25 career wins in 66 tries over Laurel’s main track.
Still, the 84-year-old Leatherbury is keeping his expectations realistic for Classic Wildcat, a horse he claimed for $4,500 on April 28, 2013 less than a month after Ben’s Cat won the fourth of six straight editions of the Mister Diz. Classic Wildcat has finished in the top three in 53 of 90 starts and banked $417,479 in purse earnings.
“He’s my substitute 11-year-old. He’s been a great horse for me,” Leatherbury said. “Back then when I claimed him, I had just taken some money from Ben’s Cat and I put it in a pot to claim some horses. I claimed a bunch of them. Some of them went up, and some of them went down. He’s one that I still have and he’s been a remarkable horse. 11 years old and he comes up with a big race every now and then and he looks great.”
Classic Wildcat has four wins and two seconds in 13 starts this year. He is coming off a 3 ¼-length victory in a seven-furlong claiming event Oct. 1 at Laurel under jockey Jevian Toledo, who is named to ride in the Maryland Million.
“I’m stretching it a little bit to put him in that race but I’m looking at the field and if he runs his race…it’s worth taking a shot,” Leatherbury said. “He’s got great endurance and he’s sound. He’s stayed sound all this time. He’s had his times when he’s run bad and then he’s gotten better. He’s just a classy horse to start with. I love old pros.”
This will be the first Maryland Million since 2009 without Ben’s Cat, who won the Turf Sprint from 2010-12, was second in the 2013 and 2014 Turf and 2015 Sprint, and sixth in last year’s Sprint. His life and memory will be celebrated as part of a six-stakes card Saturday, Nov. 11 at Laurel.
“Absolutely it feels different without Ben around. It’s kind of a sad thing but we go on,” Leatherbury said. “We have to play the cards we’re dealt and that’s what I’m doing right now. This is what I’ve got and we’ll see if we can’t take a shot.”
Source: Maryland Jockey Club